AIKEN, SOUTH CAROLINA, November 14, 2013 — This week, the Raider Nation is mourning the untimely loss of Todd Christensen at age 57.
Years past, the late Al Davis tried to bring comfort to a dying Bob Chandler by telling his former player, “You’re a Raider, and Raiders don’t die.” Cancer took Chandler, and Father Time eventually claimed Davis.
After attempting a pro career as a running back and being cut from Dallas and the Giants, Christensen was revitalized as a tight end for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. He was a key component of their 1980 and 1983 Super Bowl championship teams. Along with Jim Plunkett, Lyle Alzado and others, Christensen was another successful Davis reclamation project who thrived with the Silver and Black. By the time his career ended in 1988, Christensen had been to five Pro Bowls.
In some ways Christensen was a Raider through and through. He was an oddball on the one NFL team known for collecting misfits who would thrive when given the freedom to be individualistic. Christensen obeyed the one Raider rule, which was “Show up on Sunday.”
Yet Christensen was also the “Un-Raider,” the least likely guy to ever be associated with the outlaw image Davis loved. Christensen was a deeply religious man, a devout Mormon. He was also an academic intellectual, quoting Shakespeare and other multi-syllabic sayings that most NFL players did not care to grasp. His teammates may not have understood what he was talking about, but his play on the field spoke for itself. Tough guys like Ted “Mad Stork” Hendricks welcomed him into the fold. He was strange enough to be one of “their crazies.”
His intellect allowed him to thrive after his playing days ended. He went on to a successful broadcasting career, calling many NFL and college football games.
A chance meeting at a restaurant in late 2012 turned into a two-hour conversation with Christensen. As much as he appreciated this writer’s knowledge of virtually every public detail of the 1983 Raiders, he had a wide range of interests on many different subjects. He was obsessed with trying to remember the movie with the quote “My name is Inigo Montoya.” At a random point in the conversation, he excitedly yelled out, “Princess Bride! It was the Princess Bride.” He was then able to continue without distraction.
He was very modest about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, since many people including myself incorrectly assumed he had already been inducted. He stated that while his numbers were not as gaudy as Shannon Sharpe or Tony Gonzalez, the NFL is much more of a passing league now. He does deserve consideration for induction into Canton.
Todd Christensen was very self-effacing. Christensen told a story about how a 24-year-old woman appeared to be fawning all over him once she knew who he was. He thought, “Hey, at age 56, I’ve still got it.” He then laughed as he recounted that the young woman then said, “My mother loves you!”
The 1983 Super Bowl victory over the Redskins was his career pinnacle as a Raider. The best quote from that Super Bowl came from the losing quarterback Joe Theismann. Just reciting the beginning of the quote, “They handed us our (butts) on a tray,” led Christensen to finish the quote with a big smile. He lit up when he exclaimed “and the tray was bent.”
To understand Christensen is to know that the unassuming man in that restaurant in 2012 was the exact same man in the moments after winning the 1983 Super Bowl. He fell to his knees and cried on the field when the game ended. Three decades later he still fought back tears on television when explaining what motivated the original tears.
It was not about winning a championship. It was about a man who was once a mere speck of dust, a gleam in somebody’s dream, getting to be a human being, much less play football. He was the son of a minister and a homemaker who humbly wanted to just give thanks to “his maker” for allowing him to reach far beyond what any human being had a right to expect.
He wanted to avoid being guilty of the greatest crime against man and God, what he called “the sin of ingratitude.”
One year before his death, he was fighting a liver disease that was not brought about by alcoholism or other reckless behavior. He was the innocent victim of a botched gall-bladder operation 25 years earlier. Only months before his illness took him, he was cheerful, grateful and thankful for what was given to him over the course of his life.
Given is too soft a word. He earned his success. He was a great football player, a great Raider, and an even finer human being who treated ordinary people with dignity and class.
In a game that celebrates brute force, he was a poet off the field and an artist on it. Now he is in heaven with a football in the corner of his room and a bible much closer.
He will be missed. Yet like the silver and black he wore, his legacy as #46 the Raider player and Todd Christensen the person will be with us forever.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog. Follow us on Twitter @wtcommunities
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